The Viscount and the Witch
A Riyria Chronicles Short: Story #1 by Michael J. Sullivan
A woman wielding a broom charged at them, looking as much like a witch as anyone Hadrian had ever seen. Matted black hair spilled down in brittle locks, leaving only one eye and the tip of her nose visible. The peasant skirt she wore hindered her escape from the thickets, and had enough rips and muddy stains that Hadrian was certain she had tripped on it more than once.
“Stop! I need help!” she cried in desperation as if he and Royce had been racing down the road. In truth the two were riding their horses at a pace just slightly faster than a man could walk. Hadrian pulled his reins, halting while Royce continued for a bit before turning around with a curious look. Over the past year Hadrian had seen the expression often enough. He knew from experience that the puzzlement would turn to irritation as soon as his partner realized Hadrian was stopping to hear what the old woman wanted. Then would come the scowl. Hadrian was not certain what that meant—disappointment perhaps? Next, Royce’s eyes would roll with open contempt and then frustration would display itself in the form of folded arms. Finally anger would rise along with his cloak’s hood. Royce pulling up his hood was always a bad sign, like fur bristling on a wolf’s back. It was a warning and usually the only one anyone ever received.
“You must help me,” the old woman shouted as she plunged through the brush, climbing out of the ditch at the side of the road. “There’s a strange man in my barn, and I’m scared for my life.”
“Your barn?” Hadrian asked while looking over the woman’s head where no barn could be seen.
Royce and Hadrian had been traveling north on the Steward’s Road near the city of Colnora. All morning they had passed numerous farms and cottages, but they had not seen either for some time.
“My husband and I have a farm ’round this bend.” She pointed up the road.
“If you have a husband, why doesn’t he take care of the man?”
“Dear old Danny’s away. Went to Vernes to sell our spring lambs. Won’t be back for a month at least. The man in my barn is a drunken lunatic. He’s naked—violent and cursing. He’s probably been bit by a sick dog and now has the madness. I’m afraid to go near the barn, but I need to feed our livestock. I just don’t know what to do. I’m certain he’ll kill me if I set foot inside.”
“You’ve never seen him before?”
The woman shook her head. “If you help me, if you run him off my land, I’ll see that you get a fine meal for both you and your horses. I’ll even wrap up some extras to take with you. I’m a fine cook, I am.”
Hadrian dismounted and glanced at his friend.
“What are you doing?” Royce asked.
“It will only take a minute,” Hadrian replied.
Royce sighed. The sigh was new. “You don’t know this woman. This isn’t your problem.”
“I know that.”
“So why are you helping her?”
“Because that’s what people do. They help each other. If you saw a man lying in the road with an arrow in him, you’d stop, wouldn’t you?”
“Of course,” Royce replied, “anyone would. A wounded man is easy pickings, unless you could see from your saddle that someone else has already taken his purse.”
“What? No! No one would rob a wounded man and leave him to die.”
Royce nodded. “Well, no. You’re right. If he has a purse and you take it, it’s best to slit his throat afterward. Too many people live through arrow wounds, and you don’t want the bugger recovering and coming after you.”
The old woman looked at Royce aghast.
Now it was Hadrian’s turn to sigh. “Don’t mind him; he was raised by wolves.”
Royce sat with his arms folded and a glare in his eyes.
“It’s a beautiful afternoon and we’re in no hurry. Besides, you’re always complaining about my cooking. I’m sure you’ll be happier with her meal. I’m just going to have a quick talk with this guy.” Hadrian added in a whisper. “He’s probably just some poor fella desperate for shelter. I’ll bet that if I can get the two of them to talk, we can work this all out. I can probably get her to hire the guy to help while her husband is away. The woman will get a helping hand, and he’ll get some food and a place to sleep. What’s more we’ll get a hot meal, so everybody wins.”
“And when this good deed ends in disaster will you listen to me next time and let people take care of their own problems?”
“Sure, but it’ll be fine. He’s just one guy. Even if he’s completely unreasonable, I think we can handle a drunken squatter.”
Being early spring, the road was a muddy mess. Patches of snow still hid in the shadows of rocks and the trees were just beginning to sprout small leaves. Still the birds were back. Hadrian was always surprised by their songs—how much he missed them, and how shocked he was that he never noticed their absence until they returned.
Just as foretold, around the next bend was a farmhouse, if it could be called that. All of the homesteads they previously passed had been neat white-washed cottages with thatch roofs that stood out brightly against the season’s new green. Each had fields already ploughed and sown. The woman’s farm was a dilapidated shack of withered boards and tilting fences. Rising on his stirrups, Hadrian could not see a tilled field anywhere.
“The barn is just down the hill that way,” she pointed. “You can see the roof. If you like, I’ll set your horses to some grain and water and start making your meal.”
“You say it was just the one man?” Hadrian asked as he slipped off his horse and let the woman take the leads.
Hadrian, who already wore two swords hanging from his belt, unstrapped a long spadone blade from the side of his horse. Slipping the baldric over his shoulder, he let the massive sword hang across his back. It was the only way the sword could be carried. The spadone was a knight’s weapon, intended to be used on horseback. If he wore it on his side, the tip dragged.
“That’s a lot of steel for one drunken fool,” the woman said.
“Force of habit,” Hadrian replied.
Royce dismounted alongside him, touching down with his right foot, then more gingerly with his left. He opened his pack and rummaged around for a bit. The woman waited until he finished, then with a final round of gratitude, she took both horses up to the house leaving Royce and Hadrian in the farmyard.
A fieldstone well, formed the centerpiece of the open space between the house and the outbuildings and down a slope stood the barn. The whole place was badly overgrown with knee-high grass and dandelions going to seed. Royce paused a moment and sat on the foundation of what looked to have been a small building—a chicken coop most likely as it was too little for much else. He lifted his left foot and examined it. Hadrian could see a row of puncture marks in the soft leather.
“How’s your foot?” Hadrian asked.
“He had a good hold.”
“Bit right through my boot.”
“Yeah, that looked painful.”
“So why exactly didn’t you help?”
Hadrian shrugged. “It was a dog, Royce. A cute, little dog. What did you want me to do, kill an innocent little animal?”
Royce tilted his head, squinting into the light of the late evening sun to focus on his friend. “Is that a joke?”
“It was a puppy.”
“It was not a puppy, and it was eating my foot.”
“Yeah, but you were invading his home.”
Royce frowned and let his foot drop. “Let’s go see about this barn-invading ogre of yours.”
The two headed down the grassy slope that was graced with a bounty of white and yellow wildflowers that swayed in the gentle breeze. Honeybees were still out working, droning between the daisies, bishop’s lace, and wild carrots. Hadrian smiled. At least someone was hard at work farming the land here. As they approached the barn, they found it in no better shape than the house.
“You know, you didn’t have to throw it out the window,” Hadrian said as they walked.
Royce, who was still preoccupied with his foot, looked up. “What did you want me to do with it? Scratch behind the little monster’s ears as it gnawed my toes off? What if it started barking? That would have been a fine mess.”
“It’s a good thing there was a moat right under the window.”
Royce stopped. “There was?”
Now was Hadrian’s turn to scowl. At times like this he could never be certain whether Royce was serious or not. They had worked together for almost a year, but he was still trying to understand his new partner. One thing was certain—Royce Melborn was by far the most interesting person he had ever met but also the hardest to get to know.
They reached the barn, which was made of wood and fieldstone and supported a straw roof. The whole structure lurched to the side, its eaves leaning against the trunk of an old maple. Several of the clapboards were gone, and the thatch roof was missing in places. The double doors hung open, but all Hadrian could see inside was darkness.
“Hello?” Hadrian called. He pushed the doors wide and peered in. “Anyone here?”
Royce was no longer behind him. He often disappeared at times like this. Being more adept at stealth, Royce enjoyed using Hadrian for the noisy distraction he was.
There was no answer.
Hadrian drew a sword and stepped inside.
The interior of the barn was much like any other except that this one showed signs of serious neglect and recent occupancy—an odd combination. The sagging loft was filled with old rotting hay. The few visible tools were rusted and wrapped in webs.
Enough light pierced the gaps in the roof and walls to reveal a man lying asleep in a pile of hay. Thin and incredibly filthy, he wore nothing but a nightshirt. Grass littered his hair, and his face was nearly lost in the unruly wreath of a wild beard. Curled in a ball, an old sack acted as his blanket. With his mouth hanging agape, he snored loudly.
Hadrian sheathed his weapon and then gently kicked the man’s bare foot. The only response was a grumble as he resituated himself. Another prod produced a flicker of eyelids. Spotting Hadrian, he abruptly drew himself to a sitting position and squinted. “Who are you?”
“Name’s Hadrian Blackwater.”
“And what is it that you wish, kind sir?” His elocution was more sophisticated than his appearance had suggested.
“I was sent by the lady who owns this farm to inquire why you’re in her barn.”
“I’m afraid I don’t understand.” He squinted even more.
Well spoken, but no genius, Hadrian thought. “Let’s start with your name. Who are you?”
The man got to his feet, brushing hay from his shirt. “I am the Viscount Albert Tyris Winslow, son of Armeter.”
“Viscount?” Hadrian laughed. “Have you been drinking?”
The man looked decidedly sad as if Hadrian had inquired about a dead wife. “If only I had the coin.” A realization dawned and Albert’s expression turned hopeful. He got to his feet and brushed the hay from his nightshirt. “This is really all I have left, but it’s made from the finest linen. I would sell it to you for a fraction of its worth. Just a single silver tenent. One simple coin. Do you have one to spend?”
“I don’t need a nightshirt.”
“Ah, but my good man, you could sell it.” Albert spit on a dirty smudge and scrubbed the material between his fingers. “If given a good wash, this garment would be beautiful. You could easily make two silvers—perhaps three. You’d double your money most certainly.”
“He’s alone.” Royce jumped down from the loft hitting the ground beside them, making only the whisper of a sound.
Albert gasped and jumped backward where he froze staring fearfully at Royce. His reaction was not unusual—most people were frightened of Royce. Shorter than Hadrian and bearing no visible weapons, he still put people on edge. The layers of blacks and grays along with the hood did not help. But the real source of menace that caused all but the bravest to step back was simply that Royce was genuinely dangerous. People sensed it, they smelled death on him the same way they smelled salt on a sailor, or incense on a priest.
“So now I see…you’re here to rob me, is that it?” Albert shouted. “Well, the joke is on you.” He looked down at his feet and made a noise—a pathetic laugh. “I have nothing…nothing at all.” Just then he dropped to his knees, put his hands to his face, and began to cry. “I have no place else to go,” he whimpered. “While it provides little more shelter than the maple tree it leans on, this barn is at least a roof over my head, and provides a soft place to sleep.”
Royce and Hadrian stared down at him.
“So, this is the great ogre, then?” Royce asked with a smirk.
“If all you needed was a place to rest, why did you threaten the farmer’s wife?”
Albert wiped his face and looked up with a puzzled expression. “Who?”
“The woman who owns this farm. Why didn’t you just ask her permission to sleep here?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Old witchy looking woman? She lives in the house just up the hill. She says you threatened her.”
Albert looked first at Hadrian, then at Royce as if trying to decipher a riddle. “No one lives there. Have you seen it? I sleep here because the house is a disaster. The floorboards are all rotted and there’s a giant wasp nest in the rafters. This farm has been abandoned for years. Any fool can tell that.”
Royce looked to Hadrian who quickly left the barn and ran up the slope.
The sun had slipped behind the treeline casting long shadows across the fields and the house. Just as Albert had described, the building was a wreck. A good size sapling grew out of the kitchen floor. With slumped shoulders he returned to the barn where Royce was gathering wood for a fire.
“See,” Royce said. “Told you this wouldn’t go well. She’s gone, right? The nice lady you wanted to help has fled, taking our horses and all our belongings with her.”
Hadrian allowed himself to collapse on a fallen oak beam and muttered a curse about the woman.
“Don’t blame her. This was all your doing. You practically begged her to rob us. Now will you listen to me next time?”
“I just can’t believe someone would do such a thing.” Hadrian shook his head.
“I know. That’s why I had to show you.”
Hadrian looked up. “You knew?”
“Of course I knew.” Royce pointed at Albert. “Like he said, any fool could see this farm hasn’t been lived in for years. And didn’t you wonder why she was hiding along the road like that?”
“So why didn’t you say something?”
“Because you had to learn a lesson.”
“This is one costly lesson, don’t you think? Our payment, our gear, not to mention the horses themselves.”
“Well, that’s what you get for helping people.” Royce replied. “Didn’t they teach you anything in Hintindar? If you had been raised properly, you’d know better.” Royce turned to Albert. “Isn’t that right? I bet no one has ever helped you, have they?”
“No,” Albert replied with his eyes downcast.
“How long have you been here?”
Albert shrugged. “A week maybe.”
“What have you been living on?”
He plucked the material of his nightshirt out from his chest. “I didn’t come here in just this, you know.”
“You’ve been selling your clothes?”
He nodded. “The road has a good flow of traffic. I had some very nice pieces. My doublet fetched enough for an entire cask of rum, but that only lasted a few days. I was serious about the nightshirt. You’d be doing me a favor if you bought it.”
“That’s all you have. What are you going to do, walk around naked?”
Again he shrugged. “No sense leaving anything behind. My father taught me that.”
“See, this poor bastard is going to die here—penniless and miserable. He’ll starve. The world is a cold, ruthless place.” Royce paused to study Albert. “Probably in less than a month, I’d wager, and no one is going to lift a finger in his favor. That’s the way the world is, cold and indifferent, even on its best days.”
Hadrian sighed. “I was just trying to help.”
“Yes, you can see how much she needed you. She needed to be saved from this scoundrel. Look at him. He’s a monster if ever I saw one.”
“You’ve made your point, Royce.”
“I hope so. I hope we won’t have to go through this again. I’ll clear those stars from your eyes yet.”
Royce built a pleasant fire near the door, to allow the smoke to escape, and by the time he had it strong enough to put on a good size log, the sun had set and night arrived.
“Here,” Royce said, handing Hadrian a strip of salted pork.
“So that’s why you were rummaging in your pack.”
“I should let you go hungry,” Royce replied.
Albert stared at the bit of meat, his eyes following it.
“How long has it been since you’ve eaten?” Hadrian asked.
“Days. I had a bit of bread someone threw at me—that was…three days back. Yesterday I chewed some bark, which was awful, but it helped settle my stomach a bit.”
Hadrian held out the strip to him, which brought a groan and an eye-roll from Royce. “Didn’t we just go over this?”
“You gave it to me, didn’t you? Besides, you just said that I should go hungry, and yet you gave it to me anyway. Why was that?”
“Because…” Royce scowled. “Oh do what you want. I don’t care.”
Hadrian watched as Albert bit off the end and chewed, then asked, “So what’s your story? Why are you here like this?”
“I told you, I’m the Viscount Albert Winslow.”
“I thought that was just some line you were giving me. You really are noble?”
“Yes. Granddad Harlan Winslow lost the family fief by losing a bet to the king of Warric. My father didn’t do any better. He squandered what was left of the family fortune on women, gambling, and drink. Neither of them gave any thought to me and how I would survive with nothing but a title that serves as a noose around my throat.”
“How’s that?” Hadrian asked.
Albert took another bite. “Do you think anyone hires a noble for mucking out a stable or laying cobblestones?” He held up his hands. “I don’t have a single callus. Even if I decided to leave title and pride behind, I lack any useful skills. I’m like a milk cow slapped on the backside and turned out of the barn to make her way in the forest. A chicken, returned to the wilds to fend for myself.”
“I don’t think chicken’s have ever been wild,” Hadrian said.
“Exactly.” Albert paused to stare at the remainder of the salt pork strip. “Your friend is right. This is just prolonging the inevitable. It’s a waste. Here.” He held out the meat.
“Keep it,” Hadrian said, tilting his head at Royce. “I’m supposed to be learning a lesson.”
“Oh shut up, the both of you. I have more.” Royce pulled another strip of pork from his vest and handed it to Hadrian.
“So that’s my miserable story,” Albert said. “How about you two?” He looked at Hadrian. “I’m guessing you’re his apprentice?”
Hadrian laughed. “No. We’re…business partners.”
“Procurement,” Royce said.
“Any kind,” Royce answered.
Albert stared at them for a moment, then his eyes widened. “You are thieves.”
“He is.” Hadrian pointed to Royce. “I’m new to this.”
“Really? What did you used to do?”
Hadrian thought a moment. “Kill people.”
“Assassin?” Albert sounded impressed.
“Oh. Guess that explains the three swords though. How’s business? Clearly you’ve been making out better than I. What do you do? Pick pockets?—no, with three-swords here you’re probably highwaymen, right? Hold up merchants? Or do you kidnap and ransom?”
“We don’t do those things,” Hadrian explained.
“No. Stealing—like that, it’s—wrong,” Hadrian declared.
“But you’re thieves—you are thieves?”
“Like I said, he is.”
“Oh—I see. You’re the honorable soldier—but wait—why are you working with him then?”
“Same reason you’re trying to sell your nightshirt,” Royce replied.
“Rum?” Hadrian said. “Not food?
Albert shrugged. “That’s what I do with all my money. It helps take my mind off the fact I spent all my money on rum.” He quickly added, “So what do you do, if you don’t rob people?”
“Contracts, mostly” Hadrian replied. “People who need help come to us and we—”
Royce grumbled. “You see how he thinks? We don’t help people, we use them. Let’s say—oh I don’t know…” Royce whirled his fingers in the air as if trying to conjure a thought. “Let’s say—purely as an example—a merchant sets up shop across the street from an established one. The established merchant, let’s call him Bernie, doesn’t like it, so he tells the new guy, we’ll call him Andrew, to leave. Let’s say Andrew doesn’t. The next thing you know some thugs tear Andrew’s place apart and breaks his wife’s arm. Then Bernie tells the new guy—Andrew—that he needs to leave, or the next time he’ll be dead.”
“So you’re the thugs?” Albert asked?
“No, we…”—he looked at Hadrian—“we help the new merchant.”
“I’m a creative problem solver.”
“You bust-up Bernie’s store?”
“No, that would get Andrew killed.”
“I hire the same thugs to trash the store of the wealthiest merchant in town—and tell them Bernie supplied the gold. Next day someone starts an ugly rumor that ’ole Bernie is causing trouble for his competition. The story is easily confirmed because of the first incident. The wealthy merchant, we can call him Sebastian, has connections—they always do. The next day a fire burns Bernie’s shop to the ground. Unfortunately for him, Bernie’s caught in the fire having accidently fallen asleep in his shop—tied to his bed.
“The money we paid the thugs is only half of what Andrew paid us. We pocket the rest. Once I get Hadrian schooled in the art of intimidation, we’ll make more.”
“They shouldn’t have killed him,” Hadrian said.
“See what I have to deal with? Problem is, you don’t get too many jobs like that. But what you said about ransom is true. There can be good money in that if you grab the right target. Even he can’t complain too much about that kind of work.”
“Well, in return for the meal, let me offer you a bit of advice,” Albert said. “We’re just outside the City of Colnora, and if I were you, I wouldn’t pull any kind of job around here, or the Black Diamond will be after you.”
“Black Diamond?” Hadrian asked. “Is that the city patrol?”
Albert chuckled, and Royce shook his head, looking at Hadrian as if he had dropped his pants in public.
“You’re not from around here?” Albert asked.
“From Hintindar, a tiny manorial village south on the Bernum river.”
“And you’ve never heard of the Black Diamond?”
“I haven’t been in the area much. I’ve been away for quite a few years.”
“Oh,” Albert said. “Well, the Black Diamond is a thieves’ guild. Some would say the thieves’ guild. The most powerful and extensive one in the world. Their headquarters is just down that road in Colnora. And like any thieves’ guild, they don’t like interlopers. If they find out you’re practicing your trade around here, they’ll track you down and slit your throats. And trust me they’ll know. The Black Diamond is not an organization to toy with. Kings have been known to bow to them rather than face their wrath.”
“Well, I hope they catch up with that woman who stole our horses then,” Hadrian said.
“They already know about her,” Royce said. “She was Black Diamond.”
“What do you—” Hadrian shook his head. “You knew? I can’t believe you didn’t say anything. You just let her take our horses and all our gear?”
“What part of ‘you need to learn a lesson’ didn’t you understand?”
“You’re insane, do you know that?”
“Yeah, well you’re not the first to bring it up. But there’s nothing more to be done tonight. I suggest we settle in and get some sleep.”
Royce scrambled up to the loft and bedded down there. Hadrian continued to stare in shock after him for a minute before giving up and mounding a pile of hay near the fire. “I honestly can’t believe him sometimes.”
The nights were still chilly and by morning there was a damp fog hanging in the air. Royce was the first one up. He got the fire going again, which surprised Hadrian as they had nothing to cook. He likely built it out of boredom while he waited for Albert and Hadrian to wake. Most people would have done it to stave off the cold, but Hadrian had never seen Royce affected by the temperature, neither cold nor hot.
“Morning,” Albert said as Hadrian sat up, shivered, and moved to the fire with the rest of them.
He scrubbed his face with his hands and wiped his eyes clear. The day was cloudy and the valley filled with a thick mist. Hadrian enjoyed mornings like this, quiet and serene, like a drowsy pause a lazy world was taking. He crouched to catch the warmth of the fire while dodging the smoke.
“So, where were you two headed before misfortune dropped you here with me?” Albert asked. He lay sprawled next to Hadrian, like a dog before a hearth.
“Up north. A place called Medford,” Hadrian replied and began brushing hay off his shirt. “Royce has someone up there he wants to visit. Ever hear of it?”
Albert nodded. “Capital of Melengar, royal seat of King Amrath and Queen Ann. They have two children, boy and girl. What’s their names…begins with A’s—all the Essendon’s names begin with A’s—Alric and Arista. Yes, that’s them. Close friends of the Pickerings. Have you ever seen Belinda Pickering?”
Both Hadrian and Royce shook their heads.
“She’s a fine beauty, but her husband has a bit of a temper. He’s very protective of her and good with a sword. But if you ever get a chance to see her, it’s worth chancing a look.”
“You know a lot about these people,” Royce said.
Albert shrugged. “I’m noble. We all know each other. There are many parties, balls, and feasts. Not to mention the holidays and weddings. Most of us are actually related.”
Royce tapped his fingers to his lips. “Nobles have a lot more money than merchants.”
“Well not all, clearly.” Albert made a wry smile, then the smile dropped and his eyes lit up. “Yes…yes they do. And they also have problems—problems that could use creative solutions. Court is a very interesting place, a bloodless battlefield where rumors can ruin lives and embarrassments can be worse than death. Many would pay great sums to avoid…or cause…such humiliations. The trick is discovering who needs what done and arranging for meetings.”
Royce nodded. “I suspect nobles won’t speak to the likes of us.”
“Of course not. They would never stoop so low as to confer with a commoner, much less a dubious one. They prefer to do business with their own kind. You would need a go-between, a representative, but he’d have to be noble.”
“Too bad we don’t know anyone like that,” Royce said.
“Well…with a haircut, shave, some new clothes—”
“And no more rum,” Royce said.
Albert grimaced. “But—”
“No buts. You can stay here and die or work for us, and if you work for us, you work sober.”
Albert rubbed his bristly chin. “That really should be an easy choice, shouldn’t it?”
Hadrian spoke up. “Exactly how are we going to provide all this? Have you forgotten that we’ve lost everything? At the moment we’re not much better off than he is.”
Royce smiled and stood up. “Details. Details. Are you two ready to go?”
“I suppose you’ll want to hunt down that witch of a woman and kill her?” Hadrian inquired with a tone of distaste as they all began to walk up the slope of wildflowers.
“You know,” Albert said, “for a soldier you don’t seem to care much for killing.”
“I’ve seen enough of that to last three lifetimes. And I don’t relish the thought of hunting a woman, or like knowing what he’ll do when we find her.”
“We aren’t going after the witch,” Royce said.
“Really?” Hadrian asked. “But what about our horses and gear?”
“Look.” Royce pointed up the remainder of the hill at the house. There, standing tethered to what was left of the porch, were their horses.
“I don’t understand.” Hadrian trotted the rest of the way and checked their packs and saddles. “Everything’s here.”
“They’ve been brushed and I expect fed and watered, too,” Royce said. “Oh and look,” he reached down and bent one of the horse’s legs to reveal a bright shoe underneath. “Freshly shod.”
“I don’t get it. Why would she return them?”
“I suspect she, or someone she reports to, read the note I left in my pack.”
“You left a note for the thieves’ guild? What did it say?”
“Just that they were my animals and that they might want to reconsider taking them.”
Albert and Hadrian exchanged looks of bewilderment.
“They know me, and we have an arrangement. They leave me alone…and I leave them alone.”
“You leave them alone?” Albert said in a mocking tone.
Royce smiled at him. It was not a friendly smile.
Royce searched his pack and pulled out a small bit of parchment.
“What’s it say?” Albert asked.
“Please accept our apologies for this inconvenience,” Royce recited, then chuckled before finishing. “The bitch didn’t know.”
Royce held up the parchment and in a loud voice said, “Accepted.”
Albert nervously looked at the trees around them. “They’re here?”
“They’re watching to see what I’ll do.”
“And what will you do?” Hadrian asked.
Royce looked at Albert. “I think I’ll try fishing in a bigger pond, now that I have better bait. Shall we ride to Medford?”
The viscount looked back in the direction of the barn and then down at his filth covered nightshirt. He nodded.
“You can ride with me,” Hadrian said as he swung his leg over the saddle. Then addressing his friend he said, “Well, I hope you learned your lesson.”
Royce raised an eyebrow. “Me?” He untied his horse and climbed on.
“You said the world is a cold ruthless place.”
“You also said Albert would die from starvation in that barn—that no one would help him.” He smiled broadly and reached out to the viscount. “Care for a hand up, Albert?”
“I’m only helping him for the profit he can—”
“Doesn’t matter. You were wrong.”
“I was not. I—”
“Even if you’re doing it for selfish reasons, you’re still helping to save his life. It just goes to show that good can come from helping a stranger, and it proves that the world isn’t so bad after all.”
Royce scowled. He opened his mouth to speak, then stopped and scowled again. Finally he just raised his hood and kicked his horse.
“I’ll make a human being out of him yet,” Hadrian said to Albert as they trotted off after him.
OTHER WORKS BY MICHAEL J. SULLIVAN
- Theft of Swords (Riyria Revelations Volume #1) — Nov 2011
- Rise of Empire (Riyria Revelations Volume #2) — Dec 2011
- Heir of Novron (Riyria Revelations Volume #3) — Jan 2012
- The Crown Conspiracy (Riyria Revelations Book #1) — Oct 2008
- Avempartha (Riyria Revelations Book #2) — Apr 2009
- Nyphron Rising (Riyria Revelations Book #3) — Oct 2009
- Nyphron Rising (Riyria Revelations Book #3) — Oct 2009
- The Emerald Storm (Riyria Revelations Book #4) — Apr 2010
- Wintertide (Riyria Revelations Book #5) — Oct 2010
- Percepliquis (Riyria Revelations Book #6) — Jan 2012
WORKS IN PROGRESS
- Burden to the Earth